Joseph Anderson '20, Student Assembly President, and Heather Huh '20, co-chair of SAFC, speak at the S.A. meeting on September 5th, 2019.

Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Joseph Anderson '20, Student Assembly President, and Heather Huh '20, co-chair of SAFC, speak at the S.A. meeting on September 5th, 2019.

September 5, 2019

EDITORIAL: How to Fix Cornell’s Least-Liked Organization

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If you want to make a club treasurer flinch, you need only whisper the letters S-A-F-C. The Student Activities Funding Commission is the student-run organization that acts as a gatekeeper for over 500 Cornell clubs’ funding. And it is among the most bemoaned bureaucratic hoops on campus.

Complaints range from nitpicky rule enforcement to perverse incentives. Some gripe that applying for SAFC funding involves far too many fine details — which, if done improperly, can give the SAFC a reason to pull funds. Others point out that clubs are often penalized for spending less than their allocated amounts, thanks to the SAFC’s multi-tier funding system.

As it stands, the SAFC effectively rations its $1.5 million in funding by looking for registration slip-ups. A Student Assembly member familiar with the process informed us that a “non-insignificant number” of clubs got no funding last cycle due to filing errors. Clubs that lose funding can re-apply for money in the next cycle, but they start at the lowest funding tier — and it can take years to climb back up.

But the S.A. has a plan — or at least it’s working on one. On Thursday, the S.A. formed a committee to “transform” the SAFC, with a final plan due by the end of the academic year.

The SAFC has a tricky job. It has to provide clubs with ample funding while ensuring student money — including yours — isn’t wasted. This is complicated by the fact the SAFC is financed by the Student Activity Fee, the charge all Cornellians automatically pay to fund campus orgs. And since increases in the SAF hit the whole campus, raising the fee must be done judiciously.

During Thursday’s meeting, S.A. President Joe Anderson ’20 said the new transformation committee was “going to try [its] best” to not increase the SAF. Yet the first stated priority of the committee is “getting more money in the system.” The only way to do so without raising the SAF is to cut funding from certain other orgs, such as Class Councils or the Women’s Resource Center. That will no doubt prompt backlash — as it did when Cornell Cinema was defunded in 2017 —  and may prove unpalatable for S.A. members eyeing future elections.

So how to square this circle? Raising the SAF and making registration mistakes less punishing — perhaps by reducing funding rather than nixing it — would lighten the load on student orgs. Letting clubs with a one-time surplus stay in their current budget tier would also help. But if the SAF is to go up, it should be accompanied by a formalized effort to audit big-budget clubs, as former S.A. vice president of finance Dale Barbaria ’19 once advocated. Cornellians deserve to know their money is being put to good use.

The S.A. itself needs a better accountability mechanism, too. As we wrote in 2016, the S.A. has unchecked influence in setting its own organizational budget. An independent undergraduate committee tasked with reviewing the S.A.’s allocation decisions would ensure oversight of all players in the funding process.

Still, we’re happy to see the S.A. take on the SAFC’s long-running problems, some of which predate just about all current undergrads. It will take time for the transformation committee to iron out the details. But if they succeed, club treasurers everywhere will surely rejoice.

The above editorial reflects the opinions of The Cornell Daily Sun. Editorials are penned collaboratively between the Editor-in-Chief, Associate Editor and Opinion Editor, in consultation with additional Sun editors and staffers. The Sun’s editorials are independent of its news coverage and op-eds.